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What if a Spouse Dies Without a Will in Texas?


Estate planning is one thing that is very important, but so many people fail to draw up their estate planning documents because they believe they have plenty of years to get around to it, or the thought of drafting such documents feels morbid to them. After all, it can be difficult for people to contemplate their own mortality.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay to procrastinate. The unexpected happens every single day – car accidents, heart attacks, cancer, assaults, medical malpractice, terminal illnesses, etc. Someone can be here one day, and gone the next if they’re in a tragic accident or suffer from a heart attack.

What if you’re married and something happens to you and your life is cut short? What will happen to your estate if you don’t have a will or trust? More importantly, what will happen to your spouse?

Intestate Succession in Texas

When someone dies without a will, it’s called dying “intestate.” In all states, when someone dies without a will, their state’s intestate succession laws will determine how the decedent’s assets are distributed.

So, if you were married and you were to pass away without a will, Texas’ intestate succession laws would govern how your assets are distributed and to whom. Generally, when someone dies without a will, their estate will go to their closest living relatives.

The only assets affected by intestate succession laws are the ones that would pass through a will. However, many valuable assets pass outside of a will, such as payable on death bank accounts, retirement assets, life insurance proceeds, property that’s been transferred to a living trust, and property that is owned with someone else in joint tenancy. Beneficiary designations on some of these accounts are the reason why they pass outside of a will and are not controlled by the probate process.

What Spouses Are Entitled To in Texas

If a husband or wife dies without a will and they have a surviving spouse and children together, the surviving spouse inherits the decedent's half of the couple’s community property and one-third of the decedent’s separate property. The surviving spouse inherits the right to use the decedent’s real estate for the rest of their life, and the children inherit the rest of the estate. If the decedent had children from a previous relationship, they would have the same inheritance rights as children from the decedent and the surviving spouse.